Friday, September 27, 2013

[Photos]: Older Persons Are Taking the Lead in HIV Prevention Through VCT in Rural Community

Agunji, a community in Nassarawa Eggon, woke up last week Thursday to an announcement of the town crier (Public Relations Officer). They were called to converge under the mango tree opposite the only Primary Health Center in the village for a medical outreach.

Although the news was announced in the early hours of the morning, many people did not turn up until about 11.00am due to their busy farming activities.

"The people here are majorly farmers," says Anthony Adzo, the village’s town crier (i.e. PRO).

Adzo is in his 50s. He says he went round the different houses located within the community to inform the people of the medical outreach that was scheduled to take place that day.

Adzo held a small gong and a stick, the tools he used for his announcement. He sounded his gong to get the people’s attention as he walked through the village, and then spoke to the people in Eggon, the local language.

Adzo says there are about 1,000 people, including women and children, in Agunji village. He assured the medical team from the General Hospital secondary health centre that the people would amass for the HIV awareness campaign.

According to one of the members of the medical team, the purpose of the Agunji medical outreach sponsored by an international organization was to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. The team planned to provide free Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) for the people while also informing them about the anti-stigma bill that has been passed into law in Nasarawa state. The law seeks to protect people affected by or living with HIV/AIDS in Nasarawa state from stigma and discrimination.

There are about eighty thousand (80,000) people living with HIV in the state, according to statistics released by the Nasarawa State AIDS Control Agency (NASACA). With a 7.5% prevalence rate, the state currently has one of the highest rates in Nigeria. Medical outreach in rural areas is one of the strategies set up by the state to fight the spread of the virus.

When the one-day HIV awareness campaign kicked off in Agunji that morning, only older persons in the community came to the venue. The villagers said they were suspicious of the intentions of the medical team. After deliberating among themselves, the older men concluded that the government could not possibly have sent the medical staffs to inject them with what will kill them. After a while, the younger age group in the village joined the volunteers to take part in the outreach.

Photo report:

The only Primary Health Centre in Agunji village

Aya Achuku, 70, is among the older persons who volunteered to be tested and counseled. 

Achuku says he missed the opening lecture. Without prior knowledge about HIV and AIDS, he was happy to know his HIV status that day, he said.

When the campaign kicked off, only older persons in the community came to the venue. The villagers said they were suspicious of the intentions of the medical team.

Hadiza Malaimi, 50, taking the test. HIV and AIDS awareness is important for older persons because they can actively participate in passing on the knowledge to their family and positively influence a healthy lifestyle.

Mariama Usman, early 60s, registering for the VCT session after the lecture.

Usman, being led to the queue for HIV test

Usman waiting her turn at the testing session     
Usman is being tested for HIV 

   Usman, during the post-HIV test counseling.

A man re-assuring the medical team of the villagers’ receptiveness towards the outreach.

Merasa James, 15, taking her HIV test. The younger generation were encouraged by the presence of the older ones.

People in Agunji often blame health challenges on witchcraft. The outreach educated the people on ways HIV can be transmitted and measures on how to prevent it.

Medical lab technician, Felix Joseph and Idris Mbawa, tested about seventy (70) people before running out of testing kits. None of those tested were HIV positive.

The Anti-Retroviral Treatment centre at Nasawara state’s secondary health centre has a mandate to carryout medical outreach in rural areas to ensure the people in villages are not left out in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

 Felix Emmanuel, 30, came for the HIV test with his daughter. However, he was the only one tested because the medical team had exhausted all the testing kits.

Although there is no electricity in Agunji, some of the youths have mobile access for communication.

About five minutes drive from Agunji is this modern health center built in 2008 in a village called Kagbu. But the hospital is still under lock and key.

The health centre was built as part of MDGs’ quickwins project in 2008. When the health center is eventually opened, people in neighboring villages like Agunji will have access to better health facilities.

Also on: HealthNewsNG

About the writer
Jennifer Ehidiamen is a 2013 New Media Fellow for International Reporting Project She reports on Global Health and Development in Nigeria.

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